Whew! The Rockets have left town, so we can all exhale now. The game on Sunday turned out to be just another walk in the park. However, before it was played, every Lakers fan that I knew was very nervous. George, the egomaniacal owner of my favorite restaurant, would probably have closed it on Monday, if the Lakers had lost.
Many of the local fans admired the grit and tenacity of Shane Battier, Aaron Brooks, and Ron Artest. The Rockets had lost Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, their two best players, to season ending injuries. To put that into perspective, think of the Lakers without Bryant and Gasol. However, these rockets would not back down and just go away. They really believed in themselves, and they fought hard to make their dream come true. However, it was not to be. You Rockets did scare us, and you earned our admiration, but it was time to say farewell. We expect that you will be back next year. Now, we are enjoying the calm before the storm. The Denver Nuggets are in town, and we just don't know what to think. Are the Lakers as good or as bad as they seem to be sometimes? The same question could be asked of the Nuggets. Sometimes, they appear to be nearly invincible and other times, not so much. Which is why they play the games.
Brooks and Battier are gone, but before we can catch our breath Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups have come to the Staples Center. As far as we are concerned, they have come with bad intentions. They are slight underdogs, but they have to be encouraged by the near success of the Rockets. This fi gures to be a real world class smackdown. The addition of "Big Shot" Billups changed the personality of the Nuggets. Under his leadership they have stressed defense and toughness. It has worked for them, and the proof is, they are here now.
Jerry West, along with Red Auerbach, were probably the two best evaluators of basketball talent in the history of the NBA. West has probably watched more basketball games, and that includes high school, college and professional, than any other person in the world. When the NBA had the summer leagues here, which was the showcase for young players who hope to play in the NBA, West would be there and he would sit quietly in a corner and watch game after game.
The games were played in the gymnasium at Loyola Marymount University, and usually West was the only NBA Executive, who attended these games. He had a note pad, and he was busy watching and writing. During his tenure as General Manager of the Lakers, he did not have many high draft choices, like the Clippers. The weaker teams have most of the early picks, but even so, West managed to find unknown players who often became starters, and sometimes even stars. He drafted relatively unknown players like Norm Nixon, Vlade Divac, and Derek Fisher, and they all became starters and had lengthy NBA careers.
Then the great Jerry West watched a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant work out. His knowledge and experience told him that he was likely watching a player who had the talent to be a superstar for about 15 years. Under normal circumstances, Bryant would have been drafted by some other team. Since West was so convinced that Bryant would likely be a great star, he convinced Lakers owner Jerry Buss to allow him to trade a proven starter, Vlade Divac, for the rights to draft the talented, but unproven Bryant.
In retrospect, West’s chances for success were about one in ten. He was also aware, that he could be gambling his career, but he went ahead and did it. As it turned out Bryant , as a basketball talent, was everything that West expected, and more.
West was quoted in Monday's Los Angeles Times, discussing LeBron James, “he's just too big, too strong, too quick. And he has incredible body control. But more than that, he's a great teammate. You can see his teammates love him... But even though it's hard for me to be objective because I brought Kobe to Los Angeles, I do think LeBron has surpassed Kobe as a player.” I am not surprised at the analysis made by West but I was shocked that these comments were actually published. It is not like West to do something like that. It makes me wonder if he and Bryant are as close as they once were. It has always seemed to me that Bryant expects the whole world to be his cheering squad. So, it is my guess that these comments by West will really offend him. So, is this the beginning of the end of a beautiful friendship, or did it already end? The comment that could hurt the most, in my opinion is, “But more than that he is a great teammate. You can see his teammates love him.” Ouch!